Having reached the mid-point of its mandate, this year’s summer recess is a pivotal juncture for the government. There has been much speculation of a summer cabinet shuffle, possibility of a fall prorogation, and the introduction of a new Throne Speech which will allow the government to reset priorities as it heads into the second half of its tenure and begins to plan for the next election.
Since coming to power in 2015, the Liberals have passed 36 pieces of government legislation through both houses of Parliament.
Over the past year, Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet made progress on a number of important policy files:
- Tabled much-anticipated legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis. The Cannabis Act sets the stage for legalization no later than July 2018.
- Introduced the Transportation Modernization Act, which will bring significant changes to Canada’s air and rail sector.
- Articulated the government’s foreign policy direction in a major speech affirming Canada’s support for multilateralism and rules-based international systems, human rights, gender equality, fighting climate change and spreading economic benefits more widely.
- Released the Defence Policy Review, which proposes significant new expenditures until 2027.
- Launched the Innovation Superclusters Initiative, a key component of the Innovation and Skills Plan. The Initiative will provide $950-million in funding to support collaboration and technology co-development, facilitating growth and founding new companies.
- Passed legislation to enable the Canada – European free trade agreement (CETA) to come into force and began preparing for NAFTA renegotiations.
- Rolled out numerous climate change initiatives towards meeting Paris Agreement targets.
- Announced a number of initiatives under the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, including the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.
The government’s legislative accomplishments, however, have not come without many notable obstacles to implementing “real change.”
- Citing division among Canadians on the correct voting system, the government decided not pursue electoral reform. The decision comes after a post-election promise that 2015 would be the last under first-past-the-post.
- Steps taken to reform Parliament, a Liberal campaign promise, were panned and filibustered by members of the opposition and the government was accused of under-handed tactics to sidestep debate in the House. The government withdrew some of the proposed changes.
- As Parliamentary reform targeted omnibus legislation, the government in April tabled a 300-page budget implementation bill, including the launch of the Canada Infrastructure Bank. The decision not to split the legislation was criticized at length by opposition members and resulted in the bill being slowed and debated extensively in the Senate.
THINGS TO WATCH OVER THE SUMMER
While it was only January when the prime minister last made changes to his cabinet in order to better position his government to take up the challenge of shifting politics south of the border, another shuffle may be on the horizon this summer.
Summer shuffles mid-way through a mandate are not uncommon and there are a number of factors at play in any cabinet recalibration. In addition to the usual regional and demographic considerations, shuffles are also a chance to reward strong players, elevate new rising stars, rebalance the responsibilities of ministers doing double duty, move ministers who have come under fire for not meeting expectations and replace those who may not intend to seek re-election in 2019.
While the summer period would allow new ministers ample time to familiarize themselves with their portfolio and responsibilities, it also affords the time to make any necessary staff adjustments. It is also expected that we could see changes in the senior ranks of the public service and potential progress on the many Order-in-Council appointments that are outstanding.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance has launched its annual consultation process in which stakeholders are invited to put forward priorities for consideration for the 2018 federal budget. This year, the committee has expressed its interest in measures that help advance productivity and competitiveness and have invited submissions that touch on education and training; health; housing and labour market participation; mobility; research, innovation and commercialization; advancing technology; and access to global markets.
Submissions are due on Friday, August 4 and all parties making a submission will be assumed to have also made a request to appear before the committee who will hear from stakeholders in Ottawa and across the country beginning in September. As always, organizations will need to position themselves favourably to secure an appearance before the committee who will prioritize those groups that address productivity and competitiveness and have not yet or not recently made representations to the committee.
Key Events + Dates
As MPs return to their ridings to hit the BBQ circuit and ministers spread out across the country to make sunny summer announcements, there are a number of notable events to watch.
- Royal Visit of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall | June 29 – July 2 | Nunavut and Ontario
- G20 Summit | July 7-8 | Hamburg, Germany
- Stampede | July 7-16 | Calgary, AB
- Council of the Federation Meeting | July 17-19 | Edmonton, AB
- Liberal Caucus Retreat | September 5-8 | Kelowna, BC
- Return of the House of Commons | September 18 | Ottawa, ON
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FALL
Possible Prorogation and Speech from the Throne
There has been much speculation over the possibility of the government proroguing before the return of the House of Commons in September. This would present an opportunity for the government to hit a reset on its agenda and start fresh with a new Throne Speech to outline the government’s priorities going forward.
Parliamentary Secretary, Critic and Committee Membership Changes
A summer cabinet shuffle could send a ripple effect of change to the responsibilities of other members. This includes a potential tweak of parliamentary secretaries to fill the vacancies left by new ministers, as well as adjusting committee assignments. Potential changes to senate committee memberships would give independent or non-aligned senators better representation on the committees at the expense of the Conservatives and Senate Liberals.
New Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is also expected to shuffle the Opposition’s shadow cabinet, putting his mark on the party’s front bench ahead of the return of Parliament.
The fall sitting of Parliament is expected to focus on the study of a number of new and recently introduced pieces of legislation including ushering through the Cannabis Act, advancing the new anti-terror and cybersecurity legislation, reviewing the broadcasting and telecommunications acts, and introducing a second budget implementation bill.
The government must also provide formal responses to a number of committee study recommendations over the fall, including Canada’s media landscape, clean technology in the natural resources sector, veterans’ mental health, debt in the agriculture sector, aviation safety, Canada’s naval future, the competitiveness of the steel industry, and the nuclear industry.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health will study the proposed cannabis legislation from September 11-15, ahead of the return of the House. The Minister of Justice, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Minister of Health will be invited to appear before the Committee during the week of September 18, 2017. This will provide an opening for stakeholders to continue to influence and inform this significant transition.
The government will continue to be seized with its relationship with the United States and preparing for NAFTA renegotiations. Newly named US Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft is expected to take up residency in Canada this fall, once she has been confirmed by the American senate. Expect that in the first few months she will visit with key stakeholders in a cross-country tour and seek appointments with Canadians government and business leaders – a key opportunity to build personal relationships and identify top priorities.
The launch of the Canada Infrastructure Bank is currently slated for late 2017. The search has begun for a Chief Executive of the Toronto-based Bank, while close attention will also be paid to board composition. The Bank, backed by $35-billion in funding, will aim to spur private investment in major infrastructure projects through a variety of financial tools, recommending projects for approval by cabinet.